Authorgraph No.228 ‘

young character has built up a momentum that belies her uncertain beginnings.


Emily Windsnap, an ordinary girl on land who turns into a mermaid in the sea, began her life as a poem, idly dreamt up by Kessler as a distraction from the work she was supposed to be doing on her novel-writing MA course. She then nearly became a picture book until renowned publisher David Fickling stepped in and suggested her story should be a middle grade novel. The Tale of Emily Windsnap and a two-book deal with Orion was the result. It then turned into a series, partly thanks to the enthusiasm of 200 year-six girls on a school visit who urged Kessler to continue Emily’s story rather than write something completely new.

For Kessler, there is something almost mystical about Emily’s origins and the way each story comes to life. ‘I think there is some way in which these characters and stories exist,’ she explains, ‘and I do believe that my job isn’t making something up but finding the right ways to have a relationship with a story so that it will open up to me, to discover where it is and then hopefully do it and the characters justice by telling it. If you do that, I feel that the character will keep opening up to you.’

There is also an element of the unknown in the magical underwater realm that the St Ives-based author explores in the books. ‘Water is most of the planet and we know so little about it. Mermaids represent that possibility of all the things that we don’t know, that might exist but in our arrogance we say do not. But we don’t know a fraction of it. That’s what excites me,’ she says.

More prosaically, the settings of the Emily Windsnap books, with delicious descriptions of gorgeous watery locations, are based on places that Kessler has yearned to visit and now has a fine reason to do so.

‘I joke about the fact that I take my research seriously but I do go to wherever the books are set’ she says. ‘I went to Bermuda and snorkelled and sat on the beach to write notes in my notebook so everything in the second book comes out of me being underwater, looking at these beautiful fish and describing them. In the Land of the Midnight Sun I went on a cruise in Norway and everything from that trip went straight into that book. I immerse myself in that world,’ she says.

The breathtaking Niagara Falls, visited while on a book tour in the States, became the backdrop for Emily Windsnap and the Falls of Forgotten Island, in which Emily discovers a hidden world beyond a ‘massive, life-changing waterfall’ and finds herself suddenly entangled in an ancient prophecy. She has to embark on a dangerous mission to seek a legendary giant before it’s too late – which means breaking a vow of her own.

Like all the Emily Windsnap stories it’s a brilliant adventure tale, with much more going on beneath the surface – some of which is also a mystery to Kessler herself during the writing process. ‘I feel like on one level I know what I’m writing about and I know what I want to do but on a deeper level I feel like I never know what my books are about until I’ve finished and someone else tells me,’ she says. ‘Then I quite often realise that it was about something that either matters on a very deep level to me or in some way reflects

10 Books for Keeps No.228 January 2018

Liz Kessler Interviewed by Michelle Pauli

mily’s taken on a life of her own and I’m very grateful that she chose me,’ says Liz Kessler. With the Emily Windsnap series selling five million copies worldwide, a seventh book just out, huge popularity in the States and a film adaptation in the pipeline, Kessler’s enchanting

something that was going on at the time.’

It is certainly true that identity – and particularly seeking and resolving identity – is a theme running strongly through Kessler’s work, whether it’s Emily Windsnap reconciling her life as a human girl with her mermaid powers or Ash in Kessler’s powerful YA coming out tale, Read Me Like a Book. In fact, the two books might not be as far apart as they seem, as Kessler recalls how her brother alerted her to what he believed to be an underlying theme of Emily Windsnap – much to her surprise.

‘My brother said to me years ago, you know what Emily Windsnap’s about, don’t you? And I said, yeah, I wrote it, it’s about a girl who discovers she’s a mermaid. And he said, no, it’s actually an allegory for coming out as gay. And then he broke it down and he says, so, there’s a girl who discovers, just before her teens, this side to herself that she’d never realised before and she starts to acknowledge it. She’s scared everyone will call her names and then she comes out to her mum and she’s worried about what her mum will think. Then she stands up in Neptune’s Court and convinces him to change his laws so people can marry whoever they want. I was like, oh my god, I have and I didn’t realise it and it was never intended…’ Kessler finishes, laughing.

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